Sunday Advice Column #21

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This week I’ve been listening to an audiobook called Mastery by Robert Greene, author of the 48 Laws of PowerIt’s long as hell, so let me give you the gist. If you want to be truly great at anything you need to go for something you have a little natural talent at as hard as humanly possible and be willing to be completely destroyed by the process. You can’t compare yourself to average people when doing this. You can only measure yourself by the all time greats in your field. If you come up short, you will have failed at mastery.

This is of course extreme, but so is the path to becoming a master. There’s some overlap with Malcolm Gladwell’s concept of needing 10,000 hours to master something, but it’s not exactly the same. I’ve always understood Gladwell’s perspective to be that all you need is time. Greene would say you need time and intensity. So what does intensity look like?

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For Stephen King it means reading at least four hours a day and writing at least four hours a day. Not counting the reading and writing  I do for my day job, I’m lucky to put an hour of each in per day. Sometimes if the house isn’t too fucked up on the weekends I get a few more hours.

I believe Greene and King are correct. In order to master something, you have to go harder. Much harder. And for that there are only two possibilities. Drop out of life, live as a derelict and dedicate yourself to nothing else or give up rest until you can make a break for it.

The former is for bums and trustfunders like Thoreau. The latter is for full metal jacket  types like Bukowski.

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On to the questions.

Should there be a genre distinction between apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction?

Personally, I don’t mind these categories mixing a bit on the shelf. There’s a ton of overlap and people tend to be fans of both. If you’re the type to enjoy genre taxonomies, then the distinction is legitimate and can be fun to explore.

Post-apocalyptic is a bit easier to categorize. Civilization is already broken. Surviving or rebuilding is the focus. It’s about distilling what is essential to human survival. What type of communities would thrive? Do our morals have any place in a wasteland? Would you eat your dog or a baby? The Mad Max franchise and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road are the best examples.

Apocalyptic functions as more of a prequel. Society is slipping, often the viewer is asked to think about what they would do to stop it or if it was even possible to escape the fate. The Terminator series is apocalyptic. The dark future is mostly seen in dreams and flashbacks/forwards. Sarah Connor must prepare her son to thrive in this environment. She must choose whether or not to kill an innocent man to save the world.

An interesting question for apocalyptic fiction to explore now might be something like “what will end the world faster, globalism or nationalism?” The post-apocalypse version would be “what do we do now that globalism or nationalism has destroyed the world?”

Have you ever experienced a random act of kindness towards you from a stranger?

I’ve had some very new friends do me some serious solids, but I can’t think of a single time a total stranger has done anything nicer for me than letting my car in a lane.

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I’ve sold my app for over 10 million dollars yesterday. How do I tell my family and friends?

Don’t say shit. That’s how M.C. Hammer lost all his money. Quietly pay off your own debts, get a financial manager to set you up for early retirement, and then give generously to only your closest family members.

 

What celebrity do you find to be most overrated in looks and/or talent?

I hate to be so cliche, but you could pick any member of the Kardashian clan for a solid answer. Without photoshop, the forces of darkness, and the imminent decline of our civilization, I doubt we’d even know them.

If I wanted to be a contrarian and answer this more interestingly, I’d say Beyonce. I like her and think she’s very beautiful, but it takes an enormous team of people to write her music, choreograph her performances, and put her appearance together. I consider her more of an amazing consumer product than an artist.

I know I’ve lost a few of you on this one, but imagine Queen B went into  isoaltion for a year with a sewing machine and pro tools, what do you think we’d see if her staff wasn’t involved? I’m rooting for her, but I’m not expecting anything even close to her recent BET performance.

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Could there be a more boring vp pick than Tim Kaine?

I don’t know that he’s boring, but I haven’t seen anyone except people who make a living being excited about Clinton excited about him. Right now, I wonder if Clinton would’ve made a different choice if she knew the Wikileaks emails were going to reveal what the DNC did.

Honestly, I’m really just a casual follower of national politics, so Tim Kaine wasn’t someone I was familiar with. I don’t think I’m going to sink too much time into exploring him because VPs are so fucking irrelevant to life until some lone crazy obsessed with Jodie Foster gets near the president. That said, he seems to be a pretty good dude. Clinton could’ve done much worse.

If I was running the Clinton campaign, I might’ve gone with Warren instead. The double female ticket is undeniably appealing to many. Her populist, anti-banker agenda has a lot of support. She’s unquestionably progressive enough to appeal to the Sanders camp and she’s not afraid to mix it up with Trump on social media.

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My suspicions are that Kaine was chosen for three reasons. He’s relatively safe, he speaks Spanish, and the Clinton camp thinks he has some appeal to liberal religious voters who see through Trump’s heresy.

The first reason, safety, is obvious. Why bring a nut job on board? Sarah Palin did enormous damage to John McCain’s campaign. I doubt we will see an edgy VP pick for at least 20 years, especially now that we’ve had several failed VP runs for president. It’s no longer a pipeline for candidacy. And thank god, because Joe Biden is the Gary Busy of politics.

Kaine’s Spanish is very solid. The Democrats would do well appealing to this growing voter base. Trump’s strategy looks like he thinks he can scare more whites into voting than he can convince Latinos to switch. You’d have to be crazy not to go for them. I’ve never seen any studies that quantify whether speaking a voting block’s language actually helps, but Clinton’s ever changing accent would seem to suggest she believes it does.

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Kaine’s Catholic proclivities are interesting. Thanks to Wikileaks we know that the DNC wanted to weaponize Sanders’ faith (or possible lack of) against him. If they believe in faith as an offense, it follows they might consider it a defense. The most politically relevant consequence of his belief is that he’s pro-life, which the feminist base hates. He also believes his faith shouldn’t be applied to a woman’s decision, which the religious voters (especially Catholics) hate.

I’m reminded of Revelations 3:16: “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” This is not the election for fence sitting and I don’t think anyone except little old ladies that go to Mass everyday will care about his religion.

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Should I be embarrassed by my job title?

Only if you have one of those stupid, made up Silicon Valley titles like “Director of First Impressions” or “Happiness Coordinator.” If you can tell a World War II vet what you do without needing to explain it too much, you probably have a good title.

Do you know if marijuana can cause emotional numbness or apathy in someone even when they are not high? Basically change the brain? I know SSRIs can do this, but kinda curious about weed. Just couldn’t find any solid research.

The big problem with cannabis research is that there isn’t much of quality being done. The way it’s scheduled by our government severely limits what can be explored by researchers. So most everything from promising cancer benefits to PTSD treatment possibilities is largely anecdotal or based on rat studies.

My personal experience is that I often feel pleasantly and sometimes unpleasantly numb for a few days after smoking even the smallest amount. Keep in mind, this is a sample of N=1 with no control group, which is about as unscientific as it gets. After a few days off the Devil’s Cabbage I always go back to feeling as hostile as usual.

It’s my suspicion that it’s really hard to harm yourself with cannabis unless you have an addictive personality. To paraphrase Joe Rogan, “if you’re an addict, you can fuck up your life with cheeseburgers and scratcher tickets.”

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What is your blog article pic selection process?

Despite being a writer, I’m a fairly visual thinker. Usually an image from a film or something will pop into my mind as I write and I just go look for it on Google. The internet is so well filled, it never takes more than a few seconds to find exactly what I want. Sometimes I get on a kick and use a bunch of similar images. For example, everything from today is taken from Akira Kurosawa films. I make these decisions with very little forethought.

If I don’t want to break my flow for writing I’ll leave myself a note in the text where I want the picture to appear that looks like this: [PICTURE OF E.T. FLYING]. The main reason I even include pictures is to break the text up and make it a little easier on the eyes.

Since my blog isn’t monetized, I get to claim fair use, but if I put this stuff into a book or something, I’d have to lose the images. If that ever happens, I’ll probably just start using my terrible art skills to illustrate it, sort of like Hyperbole and a Half. Except with way worse art. I think that would be a better end product, but it would be almost possible to keep up the daily pace doing that unless this was my full time job.

If someone asks if you are intelligent, what’s the best way to answer without sounding conceited?

It really depends on what they’re actually asking. If they think you’re a dunce, and want to hear you defend your 9 volt brain, that’s one thing. If they’re trying to praise you, that’s another. Either way it’s a weird question. I can always tell if someone is smart or not within a few seconds of talking to them and never feel the need to ask them about their IQ.

Because I’m pretty well read (which is not the same thing as raw intelligence), people will sometimes say something nice about my brain.  Since reading is something I work on, I’m not terribly embarrassed by the compliment. Usually I just say something like “thank you, that’s very nice of you to say” and then shift the conversation to them.

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